05 Nov

A tasting of Spanish extra-virgin oils

By Marlene Parrish,

An extra-virgin olive oil tasting is conducted much like a wine tasting. In a professional setting, small measures of olive oil are poured into clear cup-shaped glasses and placed in front of a panelist.

Each glass is held up to the light and judged on color, which can be colorless or as intense as stained glass. But in some tests, the oil is placed in blue glasses to mask the olive oil color so the oil will be judged by aroma and flavor alone.

The olive oil is swirled, while the rim of the glass is covered with a lid or the palm of the free hand to warm it and trap the aroma. Inhaling deeply, judges classify the aromas. Raising a glass to take a tiny sip, they suck air through the oil as if it were a wine, taste and “chew it,” letting the oil work on the palate. The tip, center and back of the tongue as well as the roof of the mouth and throat are involved.

Finally, the oil is swallowed and evaluated for its aftertaste. Only bread, bottled water and sometimes apple are allowed between tastes. Comments and scores are noted on special sheets.

A PG tasting panel sampled seven Spanish extra-virgin olive oils. Bottles ranged in size from eight to 25 ounces. Cost ranged from 35 cents to $1.13 an ounce.

Our panel was led by Jeff Robbins, owner of Embarcadero Inc., and included taste-testers Laura Cooper of Imperial, Claudia DeSomma of Green Tree, Michele Graham of Verona, Bill Moldovan of Carnegie and Joan Gordon of Oakland.

We poured a puddle of golden-hued oils into small cups. We observed the clarity and viscosity of the oils, sniffed, then sipped. Bread cubes and slices of apple were handy for palate cleansing.

We used a system for categorizing olive oil flavors developed by Deborah Krasner, author of “The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook.”

Delicate and mild. These are subtle oils and will pair well with baby lettuces, new vegetables and mild cheeses. If you find an oil with flavor that’s barely there, Krasner recommends that you use it for baking or frying.

Fruity and fragrant. Here is a category that says, “Hello, this is what good olive oil is all about.” Flavors jump out, and can be fruity as an apple or fragrant as a bunch of freshly picked vegetables. These are the ones to drizzle on pasta and salads, over fruit or dessert cheeses. Fish and chicken will taste all the better for a hit of these oils.

Peppery. These flavors start easy, develop a rough edginess, then ambush your mouth with throat-catching pungency. They are good drizzled into soups and hearty pasta sauces, and make good dipping oils for country bread.

Leafy green and grassy. Krasner calls these the divas of the olive world. They are strong and have immediate appeal. They are pungent and herbal and even though they may be yellow, they taste “green.” Try these on sauceless pasta dressed only with garlic and herbs, bitter greens and just about any dish that wants an assertive note.

The Spanish olive oils:

Pons. Arbequina olives, estate bottled, 16 ounces, $17.99.

Joan: This is mild and delicate. Claudia: But it smells better than it tastes. Michele: To me, this is grassy. I’d like it on salad.

UNIQ/D.O. Siurana and Arbequina olives, 25 ounces, $12.99.

Bill: Very herbal. Claudia: Artichoke? Laura: This is more complex. Michele: I get a bite from this. Salad would be good with this, too.

L’Estornell, Arbequina olives, 19 ounces, $13.49.

Laura: I get bite, pepper and heat. Michele: Yes, with a long finish. Jeff: Anyone taste almonds? Michele: Some nuttiness, yes. Joan: I’d use this on salad. All three of these could dress my salads. I like this one.

Parqueloliva, 17 ounces, $15.99.

Joan: Peppery, makes me cough. Claudia: Bitterness on my tongue. Jeff: Use this one on hot food. It will change the whole dish. This oil took first prize in California five years in a row. Look for the label with the profile of the lady, yes, that’s a lady, in the wide-brim hat.

Zoe, blend, 25.5 ounces, $8.89.

Laura: Would this be good for cooking? Bill: I prefer this smooth flavor. Jeff: This is a good all-purpose oil, and the price is right.

Columela, Picual and Hojiblanca olives, 17 ounces, $12.99.

Bill: Bitter and peppery. I don’t like this. Michele: This is complex, not all in one direction. Jeff: Are you getting vegetal and nutty?

Caroliva, estate-grown blend of Arbequina, Hojiblanca and Picual olives, 8.5 ounces, $7.99.

Joan: This is smooth. Laura: This won’t overpower food. Claudia: I love this one.

Summing up for the group, Laura added, “I never knew there was any kind of olive oil except Italian. This tasting has changed the way I’ll buy oil from now on. There are so many to choose from.”

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One Response to “A tasting of Spanish extra-virgin oils”

  1. Josean Rosado Says:

    Where could I find the blue tasting olive oils glasses?

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